Consider organ and Tissue Donation – Trillium Gift of Life Network

Ask any member of my office team what is the best part of their job and I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that they’ll say they love the feeling they get from helping people. The same can be said of other jobs, especially first responders and healthcare workers. There is nothing quite like that feeling you get when you are able to do something, big or small, to make a difference in someone’s life. As MPP over the years I have had the privilege of honouring some very special individuals who have been in the right place and right time to literally save a life. Several such individuals have told me that while saving a life is truly a wonderful feeling, it is at the same time quite humbling for many.

One way that many Ontarians can have a very direct effect on the lives of many at the same time, over and over again is to be a regular blood donor. Cancer patients, transplant recipients, accident victims. For these people and so many more, a timely transfusion of blood can be the lifesaving difference. In fact, half of all Canadians will either need blood or know someone who needs it.

When you give blood you are not limited to helping just one person who needs a blood transfusion. Just a single pint can save three lives. That’s incredible. Besides transfusions they use donated blood to make plasma and collect stem cells for transplant. Over the years my office team and I have sponsored or adopted several blood donor clinics. When I go around talking with constituents who are giving blood or volunteering, you can’t help but notice the smile on their faces. Giving blood is quick, painless and it’s in you to give.

My friend and MPP colleague France Gélinas has been working hard on an initiative that thousands of Ontarians have signed up for that will also save lives – organ and tissue donations. Every province in Canada has its own agency that is responsible for registering organ and tissue donors. In Ontario that is the Trillium Gift of Life Network (TGLN).

As of today as I write this column, there are 1684 people in Ontario who are on a waiting list, hoping to be the recipient of a lifesaving organ transplant since it represents their only chance to live. These individuals count on the generosity of selfless individuals and their immediate families to register and give consent for their organs and tissues to be donated in the event of their death. One organ donor can save up to 8 lives. Not only that, but up to 75 more lives can be enhanced through the gift of tissue donation. Age is not a factor in all cases. What matters is the condition of the particular organs and tissues.

Currently if an individual wishes to donate their organs and tissue, they have to register with the TGLN. The truth is that some people just don’t think about this or are not even be aware of the program. In other words, donors must exercise their desire to opt in. Earlier this year, MPP Gélinas tabled the Peter Kormos Memorial Act(Trillium Gift of Life Network Amendment). The bill is named after popular Welland NDP MPP Peter Kormos, who was passionate about organ donation. Kormos died March 30, 2013. If passed, Gélinas’s  bill would change Ontario’s system to be an opt-out system, rather than an opt-in system. In other words, everyone would be considered a potential donor unless they exercised their preference to opt out of the program.

France says that it’s absolutely heartbreaking to watch people suffer anxiously for months, waiting day after day for news of a matching donor — especially when there are willing donors out there whose desire to donate went unknown to their doctor and loved ones. “By moving to an opt-out system, we can continue to respect people’s wishes, while increasing the chances that those on the waitlist will find their match.”

The province of Nova Scotia recently passed such legislation, making them the first jurisdiction in North America to adopt the ‘opt-out’ system. In Nova Scotia, family members of donors will be consulted before patients are referred to the program. As well, they will have the opportunity to verify that their loved one are in agreement with the stated preference on their health card.

The bill is in line with many other existing legislations. If someone dies without a will in this province, it’s presumed that they intend that their assets are to be given to their children, grandchildren and siblings in a statutory schedule of who constitutes next of kin. The presumed intent the proposed legislation would do the same for organs.

Since 2003 in Ontario alone, 916 people have received a lifesaving organ transplant. It is interesting to note that verified data shows that Northern Ontarians in particular overwhelmingly support organ and tissue donation. In fact, Northern Ontario leads the province in donor registration, leaving Greater Toronto lagging far behind. As of April of this year, the cities of North Bay, Sudbury and Espanola ranked 1, 2 and 7 respectively in terms of percentage of residents who have registered sitting at 57, 56 and 55 percent. Other communities in Algoma average around a respectable 45 percent.

Gary Marin from Gélinas’s riding received a double lung transplant about 4 months ago. Marin is a strong supporter of the NDP bill saying, “This lung transplant has given me a new lease on life….Any action that makes more organ donations available for sick Ontarians is admirable. That’s why I’m supporting France Gélinas’s private member’s bill to establish an opt-out system.”

This is a bill whose time has come.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected]or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.

Mike Mantha

Michael Mantha is a politician in Ontario, Canada. He is a New Democratic member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario who was elected in 2011. He's the NDP critic for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and critic for Northern Development and Mines. He represents the riding of Algoma—Manitoulin.
Mike Mantha